Everyday Law: How to Garnish a Debtor’s Wages
So, you won your lawsuit. Congratulations! Now for the hard part: collecting your money. You should start by asking the defendant to write you a check, but if they won’t (or can’t), all is not necessarily lost.
There are several ways to collect. If the defendant has a job, one good way is to garnish their wages. By filling out some forms and taking a few steps, you may be able to collect up to 25% of their earnings above minimum wage each pay period, until you are paid in full.
For detailed instructions on this process, read our Step-by-Step guide, "Wage Garnishment: Collect Your Judgment from the Debtor’s Paycheck," at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/wage-garnishment.aspx.
Requesting a Wage Garnishment
The first step is to have the court issue a Writ of Execution (Form EJ-130). If you have previously incurred costs for (unsuccessfully) trying to enforce the judgment, or if interest has accrued, you can add these costs to the total amount due by filling out a Memorandum of Costs after Judgment (Form MC-012).
You will also need to complete an Application for Earnings Withholding Order (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-001). This form provides the Sheriff with information about the debtor and the debtor’s employer. If you know the debtor’s Social Security number, you will need to complete a Confidential Statement of Judgment Debtor’s Social Security Number (Form WG-035).
The paperwork must be served on the employer by the sheriff (or a process server, but it is almost always cheaper and more practical to have the sheriff do it), in the county where the employer is located. In most counties, the Sheriff’s Department has a department to handle service. In Sacramento, this "civil division" is located in the William R. Ridgeway Family Relations Courthouse at 3341 Power Inn Road, Room 313. Bring your paperwork, along with a check for the sheriff’s service fee (currently $30 (Govt Code §26750)), to the civil division.
The Sheriff’s Department will issue your case a Levying Officer’s file number – keep track of this number! In Sacramento, you can use this number to track the status of your file at https://www.sacsheriff.com/civil/cases/. The Sheriff’s Department will fill out several additional forms (the Earnings Withholding Order (Form WG-002), Employer’s Return (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-005), and Employee Instructions (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-003), and serve the packet.
After the sheriff serves the packet, the Employer must complete and sign the Employer’s Return (Wage Garnishment) (Form WG-005) and give it to the Sheriff, who will mail it to you. Unless the debtor claims the funds are exempt, the Sheriff will then collect the appropriate amount from each paycheck, and send you a check.
Opposing a Claim of Exemption
Some types of income are legally exempt from garnishment (see http://www.saclaw.org/pages/exemptions.aspx for a list of exemptions with hyperlinks to the applicable code sections). If a judgment debtor believes his or her wages are exempt, they can file a Claim of Exemption (Form WG-006) with the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff’s Department will then mail you a Notice of Filing of Claim of Exemption (Form WG-008), along with a copy of the judgment debtor’s Claim of Exemption (Form WG-006) and Financial Statement (Form WG-007).
If this happens, you must decide if you agree that the funds are exempt. If you do not agree, you must act quickly to oppose the claim of exemption. You have 10 calendar days (counting weekends!) to serve and file your Notice of Opposition to Claim of Exemption (Form WG-009/EJ-170), and your hearing must be scheduled within 30 days of that. Details on how to schedule and conduct the opposition are available on our website at "Wage Garnishment: Collect Your Judgment from the Debtor’s Paycheck" (http://www.saclaw.org/pages/wage-garnishment.aspx). If the judge agrees that the funds are not exempt, the Sheriff will start collecting and forwarding the garnished wages to you after the hearing.
For more information on this and other "Everyday Law" subjects, visit the Sacramento County Public Law Library, "Providing Free Public Access to Legal Information for over 100 years."
Kate Fitz, Public Services Librarian
May 30, 2013